12 tone personal colour analysis drapes

12 Season Colour Analysis

Everything you wanted to know about colour analysis but was afraid to ask

What is 12 season color analysis?

You may have heard friends talk about it, and don't have the faintest idea of what they're on about.

Or you know that colour analysis and finding your season is a powerful tool to uncover your best colours to look your best with minimal effort. You might want to find out what goes on during a consultation before you decide to book one.

This is a comprehensive guide, so that you can know exactly what it is all about. 

Finding your colours is not about fashion and trend colours.

Colour analysis (often shortened to PCA) is the process of analysing your skin to determine what kind of colours you should wear to look fresh, healthy and present. And just as important: What versions of colours you should avoid because they make you look dull, drab or tired.

Why bother?

I can just pick whatever clothes are available in clothing stores and presented in fashion magazines, and look fabulous, right?

Of course you can. You will look trendy and fashionable, but you might miss out on the opportunity to look radiantly beautiful, with a minimum of fuss and makeup.

Colour perception

How we perceive colour is cultural, personal, and dependent on the colour we see next to it. You have probably been surprised at how different one colour looks when it is placed next to one colour compared to another combination, you can hardly believe that it is the same colour.

I am sure you have also been shocked that the same colour that makes someone else look red carpet fabulous makes you look sick, tired and old.

This is the principle behind colour analysis.

We believe that by comparing colours next to your skin under controlled conditions, in a specific, systematic sequence, we can determine what effect certain types of colour have on the appearance of your skin. Notice that I emphasise skin. More about that later.

12 tone personal colour analysis

There are several different systems of colour analysis. This article is about the particular 12 tone personal colour analysis system that Kathryn Kalisz developed, which is based on the Munsell colour theory. I am trained by Christine Scaman of 12 Blueprints in Canada.

It's called personal colour analysis for a reason

Several reasons, actually. It's personal because it is absolutely best when done in person, face to face, or more precisely: face to mirror. I'll explain exactly how we do it.

Personally, I don't trust screens and digital photos enough to be able to trust colour analysis that is done online. It's personal because colour perception is relative to a lot of factors, personal interpretation is one of them.

I am also deeply suspicious to colour analysis in a group setting. I don't mind if a client brings a friend to watch during the colour analysis session, but PCA is best when we have total focus on one person at a time.

And it is personal because what you do with the result of a colour analysis is to completely and utterly up to you and your personal preferences, personality and personal style. 

The science and theories

Colour theory is a vast and fascinating topic, and every culture on earth is different in the way they classify and see colour. You can look up Munsell and colour theory in depth elsewhere, there are several excellent sources for that. This is short, practical guide to colour analysis, but I will show you the Munsell model of colour classification in the next lesson, when we get into the details of colour analysis.

Wearing the colours that you are

Getting back to the question in the beginning of the lesson, why bother?

Because wearing colours that are in harmony with your skin tone will make your whole appearance more authentic. When you wear the colours that harmonise more closely with you, you will appear more authentic and in balance.

A glossary of colour analysis terms

Colour tone

Colour tone is another term for the categories we use, that we most often call seasons. I say colour tone when I want to use a different word than season. The terms are interchangeable.


Colour analysis started out dividing people into warm and cool based on skin, hair and eye colour, and subdividing them into two each, two kinds of warm, two kinds of cool.

And because it is practical to label things in order to learn and remember them, the term seasons was used to describe the four different categories. And because the people who created the classifications were western Europeans, the categories used were seasons according to the northern hemisphere: winter, spring, summer and autumn. Winter and summer are cool seasons, spring and autumn are warm.

This was all fine and dandy until it wasn’t.

Because the idea of only four categories was too limiting. Lots of people didn’t quite feel that they belonged in any of the seasons.

It appears that not all people are completely cool or warm. The next step was to introduce neutral. The 12 tone system of colour analysis gives each of the four seasons two neutral categories, and places them neatly in a circle, four “true” seasons, and two neutral seasons for each of these, like this:

Season Circle 12 seasons

Winter: True Winter, and the two neutral seasons Dark Winter and Bright Winter.

Spring: True Spring, and the neutral seasons Bright Spring and Light Spring.

Summer, and the neutral seasons Light Summer and Soft Summer.

Autumn: True Autumn and the neutral seasons Soft Autumn and Dark Autumn. 

There are other systems that use other names for the colour tones, and some have more than 12 categories. Some colour analysis systems disregard categories altogether and create a colour tone for each individual client. 

There is nothing wrong with any of the other systems, as long as they are performed by a trained colour analyst, in person, and you trust her. 

Like I said in the introductory lesson: How we perceive colour is cultural, personal, and dependent on the colours we see next to each other. And because of this, I’m not going to discuss if one system is more “right” than the other. 

I chose the 12 tone system because I find it professional and complex enough to give rich information. It’s easy to adapt to practical day to day use, and I work according to that.


Hue can be a word for a colour family. Red, blue, green, orange, these are all hues. Hue can also be used to describe the warmth level.

All seasons can wear all hues, but in a vast variety of versions of these colours.


This is a way of describing how light or dark a colour is. Black is the ultimate low value, and pure white is the highest value. A lower value version of a colour would be darker, closer to black. High value of the same colour would be lighter, closer to white.


Something you will talk about during a colour analysis is contrast level, especially connected to value. Value contrast is created by increasing the distance between the lightest and darkest. 

We can also create high or low contrast between hues, by picking colours from around the colour wheel in specific combinations.

Shade and tint

Shade is a darker version of a hue, a version of the colour with more black in it, and can be described as lower value. Tint is a lighter version of a hue, with more white in it, a high value colour.


Another word for chroma is intensity. To create lower chroma, we add grey. Less grey in a colour makes it purer, more intense, higher chroma.

Look at the Munsell colour tree. Isn't it lovely?

It illustrates hue, value and chroma. This is a three-dimensional model where the different hues are placed as branches on a tree trunk. You see that the colours with higher value are towards the top of the tree, and the lower value shades are closer to the bottom. The colours closer to the trunk of the tree have low chroma, less intensity, and further out towards the tip of the branch the colour becomes more pure and intense (higher chroma).

Munsell colour model. Source: Wikimedia

Munsell colour model. Source: Wikimedia

Each Season has its ideal combination of hue, value and chroma, to convey the essence of the colour tone

And this is where it gets really exciting!


This is what we call the pieces of fabric we use during a colour analysis. 

The fabrics are carefully selected to be compared with each other and with your skin, in order to reveal your season. We sometimes refer to the PCA session as a “draping”.

We have different sets of drapes, and they are used in a specific sequence. 

How we do it

What exactly happens during a 12 season color analysis session?

Skin, hair, eyes

Some colour analysis systems classify according to hair and eye colour in addition to skin. In the 12 tone system that I work within, we believe that all seasons have a range of possible hair colours, so wide that we don't apply it to analysis decisions. The skin and eyes give us all the information we need during a draping. 

This is why we cover the hair with a neutral grey headscarf during the PCA session, so as to not be distracted by it.

Like I said in the first lesson, we look mostly at the skin and what happens to the skin. But it’s a package deal. It’s all part of you, so what happens to your skin also happens with your hair, eyes, teeth.

If one colour makes your skin dull, chances are your hair will look drab as well. If one variety of a colour makes you skin look more clear, it will also make your teeth look whiter and the white of your eyes whiter, and your eyes more focused and clearer.

Your skin is very responsive to the drapes we apply under your chin, and it is easier to measure the effect if we look at one feature at a time. And we start with the skin.

Preparing for a colour analysis

A personal colour analysis session takes time. Set aside two to three hours. 

You will be asked to come barefaced to the colour analysis appointment, no makeup whatsoever.

And no sunscreen, because some sunscreens might create weird reflections under the full spectrum lights of the colour studio.

You will also be asked to leave your preconceived notions at home. Come to the colour analysis with an open mind and a closed mobile phone. The session will be an intense journey into your most authentic appearance, so it’s best not be distracted. 

During the draping you will also be asked to do one more thing, something really difficult, I’ll get back to that later.

The tools of the trade

The colour analysis will take place in a room that is painted light neutral grey, or as light and neutral an environment as can be mustered. The tools we use are good lighting (natural daylight or full spectrum lightbulbs), a mirror, and the drapes.

The drapes are the most important tool of the colour analysis process. We colour analysts get very attached to our drapes. I love my drapes. I love my drapes like a chef loves her best set of Japanese knives, like a carpenter loves his best hammer and his sharpest saw.

After each colour analysis the drapes are lovingly tidied and smoothed and placed back on their hooks, ready for the next magical process of revealing the true beauty of another person. 

The draping

This is colour analysis lingo for the process of flipping different sets of fabric back and forth across under your face. Which we will be doing a lot of during the colour analysis.

Your analyst will be standing behind you, wearing a light grey coat, and you will be seated in front of a mirror wearing a grey cape to cover your clothing, and a grey head scarf that covers your hair.

The test drapes are divided into sections, like chapters in a very exciting novel.

First, we have the key drapes. These represent the four key seasons, and are used as a warm-up exercise, to calibrate our eyes, and to get used to how your skin responds, and for you to learn to look for the same things that your analyst looks for and explains to you.

Then we do the same thing with a more expanded set of drapes, also representing the four true seasons, and we start comparing. Remember I said earlier that colour is never a colour on its own, we always see colour as relative to whatever is next to it? This is what the draping is all about, comparing. This colour is better than that colour, this is better than that, and so on until we are left with the very best alternatives.

And we continue to compare and switch drapes until we have chosen a likely candidate for your main season, we’re not yet concerned with if it is the true season or one of the neutral sister seasons.

Oh yes, I almost forgot. 

During the draping will be asked (and reminded again and again) to do something that is very difficult:

Please forget about your favourite colours.

Try to not focus on what colours you like or dislike, but look only at what the colour does to your face, your skin in particular.

The test drapes are not selected in order to become your favourite colours. They are selected to bring out the extremes in your skin, the best and the worst. They are diagnostic tools, not wardrobe planning ideas. That will come later, I promise!

After the expanded sets of true season drapes we kind of know a little about what your skin is showing us. Then we start on a set of drapes that we call the red drapes, even though technically speaking, not all of the drapes in this set are actually red. This is the part of the colour analysis where we circle in on which level of heat the undertone of your skin has. Is it warm? Is it cool? Or neutral? If it’s neutral, are you leaning towards warm neutral, or cool neutral?

At the end of this set, we know even more about your skin and we are circling in on which season you might be. And we pick the finalists of the 12 season sets to compare. We want to compare the suspected true season with the two companion neutral seasons.

The draping continues. We flip more drapes across you.

The plot thickens, and this is the part of the analysis that is like the final few chapters of a riveting novel.

We continue with our comparisons, choosing the best version of you next to drapes, until we have eliminated all but the best.

We conclude. We have revealed your season. And by that time both you and your colour analyst will need to drink some cool water and catch your breath.

And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, we take off your grey headscarf and bring out the luxury drapes. 

The luxury drapes are not used for analysis. We use them after we have arrived at your season, to confirm the conclusion, and to show you examples of the fabulous colours of your season.

Remember I said we would get around to wardrobe planning ideas? This is the point when we talk about what your best neutrals are, what colour you should pick for a first date, for formal dressing, dressing for work, job interviews, what colour is your best alternative to black, and generally just bask in the glow of your radiant complexion next to examples of great colours of your season.

Then you get your colour fan, and your colour analyst will talk about the hue, value and chroma of your particular season. 

She will show you how you can use the fan when you go through your wardrobe at home and when you shop for clothing, makeup and accessories.

Why we do it

The magic of your season

Every client finds at least one or two of her favourite colours among her season’s drapes, and absolutely everyone discovers one or two new colours that she had no idea could be so great for her.

You discover colours that make you look like your face is lit from within, you look younger, fresher, and healthier. ANd, as I said above, makes you be able to dress with Nordic simplicity.

Equally important is that you understand which colours you should avoid and why. Because those colours make you look tired, angry or dull. When you are armed with your fan and this knowledge, you develop the skill to navigate any clothing store with ease. You know which clothes you don't even have to bother trying on. 

And you know that when your perfect shade of a particular colour is available, you invest in a garment or two. 

The most important part

My firm conviction is that the most important part of colour analysis is what happens afterwards. When you go home and start evaluating the clothes that you own according to what you now know about what colours can do for you. And when you buy new clothes, you use your colour fan to determine whether it is worth spending money on.

This is why we do it. Because it makes shopping much easier, and dressing more fun. 

It makes choosing clothes, makeup and accessories ever so much easier than without knowing your season.

And most clients report that they actually spend less money on clothes after a colour analysis and are happier with the items they buy.

This article has explained the terminology, tools and process of personal colour analysis. 

I do not describe the different seasons and their essence in this brief field guide. For that I refer to Christine Scaman’s excellent book Return To Your Natural Colours. The second edition of the book is out, and I recommend it highly.

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A quick summary:

What Personal Colour Analysis is:

A system to cathegorise different undertones of skin 

A way to determine what colours are in tune with your own natural colours

A two- to three hour session where we compare your skin to specific colours, in a systematic sequence

Why women (and men) do it:

To make a better first impression

To save money by only buying clothes in colours that are truly bringing out the best in them

To look more professional and authentic

To look fresher and younger

Ready to discover your season?

Go to the Chrysalis Colour website to find a personal colour analysis consultant near you.

On the Chrysalis Colour website you will find a comprehensive directory of 12 tone colour analysts.